Running Ubuntu Linux on MacBook

Why would I? Well, I have two 13″ MacBooks (one spare, I think I blogged that story earlier) that are essentially my office. I used to travel lots for work, and at the time (around 2004) neither wireless nor suspend worked reliably (or at all) on laptops running Linux. I really didn’t want to be stuck with Windows, so when Apple came out with the 13″ MacBook I convinced my then employer MySQL AB to allow me to get one. They were the perfect size. It solved the problems, and at the command line it’s still a Unix derivative so all familiar tools like ssh just work as expected.

Mac laptops are slick (noticed how many macbooks you see at conferences!), they just works, so essentially I became a “happy captive” of the OSX environment… for a while. Yes it does work better than Windows, but with Steve Jobs and Apple’s attitude towards open development, making software and even hardware obsolete with upgrades, DRM and other nonsense, in the end it’s just another form of annoyance (or evil, as you will).

But how do you get rid of a complete environment, when there’s lots of convenient apps you use, that have your data semi-captive? Think mail, addresses, calendar, photos, music…

Some time ago I already set up a Linux desktop machine (with Ubuntu), and later we shifted my company Open Query to a new mail server (Zimbra) that has a decent web interface – so Mac Mail was no longer necessary either.

I have an iPod nano (gift from years ago) but I can actually just copy MP3s onto the microSD card of my Android phone and play them through my Bluetooth headset… in some ways more convenient than the iPod, so that’s the music taken care of, really.

For photos I’m looking at Google’s Picasa, as it has apps for OSX and Linux as well and can export photos and metadata from iPhoto; it can also publish albums online which I sometimes do (I’ve used Flickr which is not so convenient as it’s only online, and Facebook is just a nuisance I’ll cover in a separate blog some time soon). Also Picasa merely indexes photos, rather than importing them into its own system under magic names. So it’s useful but doesn’t lock in like iPhoto does.

So with all those things just progressing over time, I still had another problem to solve: I don’t just want to toss out lots of perfectly functional hardware and purchase a new laptop to run Linux on. Running Linux in a virtual machine is not an option, too much speed and RAM gets lost that way. The “obvious” solution would be to run Linux straight on the MacBook hardware, but that path has had many hurdles. I do have it working now on my spare laptop (alongside OSX) and while there are still some minor glitches, I have to say it works pretty darn well. Again, thanks to a lot of dedicated developers!

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